Thai fishermen sue Chevron subsidiary over oil spill

Thai fishermen and business owners have filed lawsuits worth $150 million against a subsidiary of US energy giant Chevron over a huge oil spill last year, lawyers said Tuesday.

More than 60 tonnes of oil was pumped into the Gulf of Thailand last January after an issue with a pipeline operated by Star Petroleum Refining Public Company (SPRP).

Crews scrambled to clean up the spill off Rayong province, roughly two hours’ drive from capital Bangkok, with images from the time showing the picturesque and popular beaches slick with oil.

SPRP, whose major shareholder is Chevron, is accused of failing to properly maintain the pipeline that caused the leak, according to lawsuits filed by Rising Sun Law.

The firm, which represents 837 people including fishermen, tourism operators and residents, claimed in the suits that the leak was not adequately addressed by the companies.

Following the spill, dozens of ships sprayed more than 80,000 litres of chemicals over the affected area, and the lawsuits allege that too much was pumped into the ocean, causing environmental damage.

“We are trying to create a fund, an environmental rehabilitation fund, for which we asked for 5,000 million baht ($150 million) as coverage for the whole natural rehabilitation,” said Rising Sun lawyer Muu Waan.

The fund would be the first of its kind in Thailand, she said.

A Thai court agreed to accept the case, but it declined to waive legal fees, meaning some of the plaintiffs must pay up to 20,000 baht to proceed with the lawsuits, Muu said.

“We are not sure if or how any of them will be able to afford that,” she said, adding they plan to crowdfund efforts to raise the cash.

SPRP and Chevron did not respond to requests for comment. — Agence France-Presse